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In our names



Here's the first paragraph on a New York Times story that broke yesterday:

WASHINGTON — James Risen, a New York Times reporter, will not be called to testify at a leak trial scheduled to begin this week, lawyers said Monday, ending a seven-year legal fight over whether he could be forced to identify his confidential sources.

For those of us who believe in freedom of the press, it's a chilling story, even though Risen's position ultimately prevailed: (Risen as scapegoat)

Perhaps more chilling is that Risen was reporting on something that already had occurred. Here's his account: (Secrets?)

What the Risen story is all about is summarized by this paragraph from the Times story:

"Mr. Risen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was the highest-profile journalist drawn into the Obama administration’s attempt to crack down on government officials who talk to reporters about national security. The Justice Department has brought more charges in leak cases than were brought in all previous administrations combined" (emphasis mine).

In cases like Risen's, why is the Obama administration so addicted to secrecy? Why was the George W. Bush administration—especially Vice President Dick Cheney—so addicted to secrecy? The answer is simple: They want to hide their disgraces. The list of disgraceful secrets is long:

•The torture and abuse of war prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

• The abduction of innocent people, and their subsequent torture, because they were wrongly thought to be terrorists.

• Sending terrorism suspects to countries who readily tortured people in ways even our intelligence community had no stomach for.

• Prisoner torture by the U.S. intelligence community.

• Imprisoning terrorism suspects—many of whom are innocent—at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely and denying them their basic rights to know what charges they're facing and the evidence against them.

• Failing to acknowledge the "collateral damage"—that is, the deaths of innocents—from drone strikes.
This list is incomplete, but sufficient.

If forces from a foreign government were to do these things to Americans, we'd be rightfully outraged. So why doesn't the outrage flow two ways? Because the U.S. government doesn't want us to know about what it's done in our names. Repeat: in our names. Collectively, by voting or failing to vote, all of us selected the people who enable these abuses. People from other lands often don't differentiate between Americans and the American government.

Is anyone in our government or in our intelligence communities ever held accountable for fiascoes like the one Risen reported on? Is anyone ever held accountable for the human rights abuses committed by agents of the U.S. government?

It hasn't happened yet, but the only way to bring about change and accountability is to report on them. There's an old journalism saying that goes something like this: The best way to kill loathsome things hiding under a rock is to turn the rock over and expose them to sunshine.

With that in mind, is what Risen did really a crime?

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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